Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Whale of a Tale

AUGH!  I never geeked out about Moby Dick!!

It is an INCREDIBLE book, overall.  Herman Melville has created an iconic book -- from the first words, "Call Me Ishmael," to the intense and quite forbidding epilogue.  I don't want to give anything away, if you haven't heard the ending already, but I find the whole work to be incredibly allegorical and filled with symbolism.
I also have a word of advice for anyone who reads anything.  READ THE INTRODUCTION before you start and READ THE AFTERWORD when you finish.  It might also be a good idea to read the introduction AGAIN after you've finished, as well.  You just understand the book so much more with an outsider's perspective.  It gives you things that the author doesn't explicitly say, things you wouldn't otherwise catch within the work.  I learned from the introduction not only things about the book, but things about the author.  Did you know that Herman Melville was a sailor himself?  Did you know he got kidnapped and marooned on islands infested with cannibals?  And he survived!  Did you know his works were considered pop fiction back when they were first published?  These little tidbits about Melville help me more appreciate the parts of the book that get a little verbose.  It's obvious that he loves whaling and sailing, and he likes to talk about how cool it is by explaining every little detail you can experience on a whaling voyage.
The way Melville creates his characters is also ingenious.  While most of the perspective comes from the character Ishmael, he uses context and dialogue to create these intense characters.  Ahab?  Intense.  Full of wrath and vengeance that looks contained from the outside, but inside, he's a raging volcano.  Starbuck?  Probably the least noticed character.  Most people don't pay attention to him in the movies.  But he learns quite a bit about morality and duty in the book. Don't forget Starbuck.
There's also so much irony in the book.  Irony and symbolism.  Ahab's coin.  Queequeg's coffin.  The whiteness of Moby Dick.  And then there's this biblical allegory.  Good versus evil.  God versus Man.  Fate verses free choice.  You can approach this book from so many angles, and the ending is EPIC.
The ending can't be epic, however, if you don't read through all of the book.  All of Ishmael's (Melville's?) monologues about whaling lead up to the climax.  You have to learn what being a whaler is like before you can truly empathize with the characters and understand the importance of events that occur.  Plus, it's fun, learning so much about whales and how to hunt them.  You even learn about man's understanding of whales through the centuries, and how they were perceived.  It's quite fascinating, if you allow yourself to get into it.
Also, watch the movie after you're done.  I would suggest the one made back in 1956.  You'll find some famous names were involved in its creation.  Ray Bradbury (the famous author of books like Farenheit 451) was one of the screenplay writers for the film.  The cast includes Gregory Peck (who also played Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird and Joe Bradley in Audrey Hepburn's movie premiere Roman Holiday) and Orson Welles (who plays the foreshadowing Father Mapple and gives a rousing narrative of the story of Jonah in this film).  These actors are pretty amazing.  I mean, word's can't quite describe the eeriness of this face:

Clockwork Orange, anybody?

I was able to watch the entire movie (no commercials or anything!) on Youtube for free.  I would highly suggest it to anyone who appreciates old movies.  Of course the whale isn't too realistic, but it was made in the '50s...

Another version was made for TV in 1998, and another feature film was released in 2010.  I had never heard about the 2010 version before I researched it, so it must not have been very good.  It's set in the 1950's, during the Red Scare.  An American ship has crossed into Soviet waters, and a white whale looms beneath the ocean's surface.  I wonder how they would portray that.

Anyway... If you're up to it, you should read this book.  I was obsessed with it for a few days after I finished it.  It just leaves you with so much to think about. 

Listening to:  A telephone ring.
Things going on today:  Went to Deseret Book and JoAnn fabrics.
Blessings: Hospitals and cellphones.
Learned:  Gregory Peck won an Oscar in To Kill a Mockingbird for his performance as Atticus Finch.  He died in 2003 at age 87, and was an advocate for worker's rights.  His imposing stature often caused him to be type-casted in roles that involved leadership or authority.

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